There are few things as relaxing as the whisper of wind through the trees or the camping sound of a mountain stream, but it turns out these sounds do more than just help you fall asleep. It turns out that the sounds of nature can actually be beneficial for your health.
A team of researchers from Michigan State University, Carleton University, and Colorado State University partnered with the National Park Service to investigate how natural sounds impact human health. They analyzed 18 studies and found that just listening to sounds found in natural landscapes has the power to decrease stress and pain, improve cognitive function, and enhance mood.
The researchers aren’t quite sure why this correlation between natural sounds and health exists, but they believe it is because the sounds of nature prompt our brains to shift our focus outward, while man-made sounds prompt our brains to shift our focus inwards, causing additional stress.
Looking more specifically, the researchers even found correlations between different natural sounds and particular benefits. Bird sounds were associated with lowered stress and annoyance, while water sounds enhance tranquility, awareness, and relaxation.
These health benefits are the basis of practices like the Japanese tradition of “forest bathing,” and part of the reason why time in nature is so good for our mental health. If you don’t have easy access to natural spaces in your day-to-day life, don’t worry! The researchers note that even when mixed with urban sounds, natural noises are still beneficial. Blocking out man-made noises from your home or simply throwing on an ocean sounds playlist also provides health benefits.